Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 16

The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996)

Considering my obvious love for the Universal Monsters, it's surprising I haven't written about “The Munsters” more. I've never sat down and watched the entire series but I would consider myself a fan. The holiday you're most likely to associate the gang of goofy ghouls with is Halloween. However, there is a feature length “Munsters” Christmas special. Don't get too excited though. “The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas” was the third attempt to reboot the monster-ified sitcom, following a syndicated revival series and a TV film with a totally different cast. This TV movie also has an entirely new cast, seemingly unrelated to the previous flick. This doesn't exactly raise my expectations but some monster kids enjoy “Scary Little Christmas” anyway.

In this rebooted continuity, the Munsters have only recently moved from Transylvania to Mockingbird Heights. Eddie is having some difficulty fitting in with the new kids. His eccentric appearance, hobbies, and family make him a frequent target for bullying. Because of his sour mood, the young werewolf isn't excited for Christmas, a first. Dismayed, his family think of different plans to invigorate the youth's holiday cheer. Herman works odd jobs so he can afford the season's hot, new toy. Lily fills front yard with decorations. Marilyn invites family from the old country while Grandpa attempts to engineer a white Christmas. Will these schemes succeed or is Eddie's Christmas ruined forever?

Scripting wise, “The Munsters” was never more then the cheesiest of sitcoms. It was the cast that made the series entertaining. The unstoppable comedic energy of Fred Gwynne, the lovable charm of Al Lewis, and the inherent sweetness of Yvonne DeCarlo elevated many an episode. “The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas”  doesn't have the benefit of those stars. Instead, a cast of unassuming TV actors were assembled. Sam McMurray seems too willing to imitate Gwynne's quirks, while bringing an overly mannered quality to his other scenes. Ann Magnuson has none of DeCarlo's charm, though she tries. The oddly named Bug Hall is a bit stiff as Eddie. Elaine Hendrix, the special's Marilyn, dresses like a “90210” cast member but maintains the character's sunny wholesomeness. All the cast members seem overly indebted to the originals coming off as pale imitations. Except for Sandy Baron as Grandpa. Baron hams it up, attempting to make the part of Grandpa his own but only succeeding in annoying the audience.

“The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas” attempts to modernize the characters. The macabre elements of the family are accentuated, jokes being made about torture dungeons and gruesome Christmas decorations. That can't help but make this “Munsters” seem like a rip-off of the more morbid “Addams Family” movies. There's also some edgier humor inserted. Marilyn's outfits are tighter and shorter, emphasizing her sex appeal. This is most apparent when a pair of horny Christmas elves hit on her. Those same elves later attempt to crash a dive bar. There are other jokes, about drinking too much or phone sex lines, that seem at odds with the usually wholesome tone of “The Munsters.” This was certainly a franchise that didn't need an edgy, nineties treatment.

Even if the cast is unappealing and the jokes often fall flat, “The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas” rolls along at a decent pace. Each of the family members secretly attempting to give Eddie the perfect gift is cute. At least until Santa Claus shows up. The jolly fat man quite literally popping into the movie derails this plot thread. Instead, the movie becomes about Grandpa's attempt to return Santa to his midnight ride. Or to track down the misbehaving elves. An especially obnoxious subplot has Santa being transformed into a fruitcake. When Mary Woronov, as the nosy neighbor, attempts to feed this cake to some guests, the Santa-Cake vomits white cream on her face. (Despite Woronov's gift for absurd comic, her storyline is probably the most annoying in the film.) Naturally, Santa's sleigh ride is saved, leading to the special's weirdest gag: A quartet of leather wearing biker dudes taking the place of the eight tiny reindeer.

Honestly, my favorite thing about “The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas” is the big party at the end. Uncle Gilbert, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, Rosemary's Baby, and a number of hunchbacks and cyclops join the family for the celebration. Just seeing all these different monsters together is a lot of fun. Even if the special gifts us with the sight of Herman Munster in a Santa suit, it's mostly a tedious, laughless affair. Unsurprisingly, this wouldn't spawn another “Munsters” TV series. Further, better attempts have been made but those wouldn't go onto series either. Seems like “The Munsters” belong in the black-and-white days. [5/10]

The Addams Family: Christmas with the Addams Family

If you buy the narrative that “The Munsters” was a rip-off of “The Addams Family,” it makes perfect sense that the latter series would do a Christmas special. The Addams did it first, thirty years earlier. In “Christmas with the Addams Family,” the creepy, kooky, altogether ooky family is celebrating the holidays. The next door neighbor, Mr. Thompson, told Wednesday and Pugsley that there's no such thing as Santa Claus. Determined not to spoil the season for their kids, Gomez and Morticia convince Uncle Fester to don the red suit and climb down the chimney. When Fester attempts this, he gets stuck. Worried about ruining the kids' holiday, every other member of the Addams family dresses up as Santa, unaware that the others are trying the same plan.

A Christmas episode was natural for the Addams Family. After all, the entire point of the series was, despite their macabre appearances and hobbies, the Addams were a loving, extremely close clan. So of course they go all in on the festivities. The episode opens with Gomez hanging jingle bells. The tree in the center of the house – which is barren of pine needles, naturally – is fully festooned. The multiple Santa gags occupy the episode's back-end. It's a good joke, as Wednesday and Pugsley become increasingly confused by a different Santa delivering them identical gifts. By the end, both kids are struggling to hold the six Marie Antoinette dolls and bow and arrow sets in their hands. Seeing Cousin Itt and Lurch dressed as Santa provides its own laughs, especially Lurch's confused attempts to convince the kids he's the real deal.

The gags are funny but, as usual, the biggest laughs arrive due to the interaction between the cast members. Morticia is gifting Lurch a feed bag for Christmas, the conversation with her husband about this providing a decent chuckle. A distant relative has sent the family a snake charmer's basket, including a floating rope. Which is a silly joke made worthwhile but John Astin and Carolyn Jones' amazing chemistry. The same duo provides my favorite joke of the episode. While Morticia stands on a letter, decorating the tree, she lets slip a word of French. Naturally, this inflames Gomez' fiery lust, nearly knocking her from the ladder. The conclusion – where the real Santa appears off-screen – borders on the syrupy but the show makes it work. Because the Addams are, if nothing else, utterly sincere. “Christmas with the Addams Family” is enough of a classic that the vastly inferior 1998 series would loosely remake it. [7/10]

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